Saturday, November 27, 2010

Only in British Columbia

Those of you who lived through the crazy 1980's in BC will not be surprised by this fall's politics. Tax cut, no tax cut. BC's new education policy, no new policy. New Education Minister (George Abbot), old Education Minister (back to Margaret MacDiarmid).

But never be fooled that the change means the ideologues are going away. We remember that the death of the Socreds was the birth of the Liberals.

Also on the horizon this week is the possibility of a return of Christy Clark - anointed by some as the Sarah Palin of Canada, and known to teachers as the architect of many a failed education policy - grade 10 and 11 provincial exams, the never funded failure "portfolios", and the never made it even into policy "three graduation streams". Clark was Minister when class size and composition limits were stripped, when special education funding for most categories was eliminated, and really was in many ways the mastermind of ten years of gradual erosion of programs and services in schools.

Now is the time for education advocates to speak louder than ever. While the Liberal hopefuls are racing to lead the party and racing to distance themselves from the Campbell years, there is an opportunity to put PUBLIC education back on the agenda, to confront the testing and ranking of the FSAs, to advocate for full funding for cash strapped school boards. And while the NDP has its own inner party struggle, now is also the time to pressure them to take a position on education issues - more funding, elimination of public funding for private schools, reinstatement of class size and class composition provisions and the repeal of the essential services legislation.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Class Size & Composition in Court

In case it hasn't made the main stream media in your neighborhood, check out:

for a detailed, day by day report on the BCTF's challenge to Bills 27 and 28 which unilaterally removed class size and class composition limits in teacher collective agreements. This was a watershed moment in BC education and led to a significant degradation of learning conditions for students and working conditions for teachers.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Victoria Trustees strike Ad-Hoc Committee to Investigate Safety of Wifi

Last night's Board meeting adopted a motion to strike an ad-hoc committee of teachers, parents, trustees, support workers and other stakeholder groups to investigate the potential risks of wifi technology in schools.

This is a good first step in gathering evidence and considering adoption of a precautionary principle. Rather than conduct a grand experiment on our children, should we not first know that wifi is safe before massive expansion in schools to support a myriad of wireless devices?

Three speakers presented to the Board. One parent criticized the documentation provided by Secretary Treasurer George Ambeault, as it came primarily from Canadian Health Authorities. The parent mentioned that these authorities do not look at all scientific evidence, do not consider whether studies have corporate funding from the telecommunications industry, and have failed to take precautionary measures in the past - notably with cigarette smoking, asbestos and the tainted blood scandal.

A second parent spoke to the issue of sensitivity, which her son, a student at Mt. Doug, has experienced. He has been unable to attend school due to the presence of Wireless Access Points and the family has had difficulty getting reliable information on the location of wifi devices within the schools.

The Committee will be reporting back to the Spring Operations meeting of the Board.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

21 Century Learning - just more education hype?

The hype is there, but the details seem to be ever fewer. Even the upcoming conference on the topic organized by the BC Superintendents Association continues with vague references and buzzwords, but almost no details.

Consider this video showing Greater Victoria Superintendent John Gaiptman discuss the initiative:

What exactly does he say about it? I can't tell. What I do know is that as usual, only token gestures are given to suggest any meaningful dialogging. The Greater Victoria Teachers' Association, which represents the 1400 teachers in the district, was not invited to attend, despite such an invitation occurring in many other districts.

As usual, there are a lot of platitudes and catch phrases without any substance. Sounds a little like Gordon Campbell's farewell promise to have every grade 4 child meet or exceed expectations. That promise certainly ended quickly.

While every school staff appears to have had 21st Century Learning show up on a staff meeting agenda, no mechanism for staff input exists - these are one-way, top-down conversations.

Some of the few details emerging have educators reasonably concerned. There seems to be a strange view of the current system - that somehow we do not engage students, we do not teach creativity, we do not encourage students to explore their own interests. There is also an odd disconnect with the testing agenda so popular with this government. How exactly does FSA testing and provincial examinations fit in with personalized learning? Will there be personalized standardized tests!

Most worrisome is the suggestion that secondary schools would see the end of the traditional classroom and instead students would attend classes of up to fifty students, where the teacher was no longer instructor, but merely the "guide on the side". Exactly how will this help my already struggling grade 10 math students better understand algebra? Less individual attention is the answer? To be honest, the ones already slipping through the cracks are likely to see a huge gaping hole in this model.

Monday, November 1, 2010

What will the new Minister bring?

Last week's announcement of a cabinet shuffle was certainly good news for children, parents and teachers. Margaret MacDiarmid seemed to have little care or thought to the education portfolio and gave little of her time to talk to those directly involved. Her twenty minute speech to the BC School Trustees Association had more to do with healthcare than Education, and teachers had great difficulty even getting meetings to discuss issues with the Minister.

So it comes as some relief that the new Minister of Education is George Abbott. He has a reputation of at least listening and talking to stakeholders within the community. This would be a welcome change from the last three Ministers.

Of concern is Abbott's history of amalgamating health boards - a portent of amalgamation of school districts on a grand scale? Certainly local communities are much better served when they are able to be participants in decision making about services directly in their communities. Large regional Board do not serve this purpose, and instead isolate the decision makers and eliminate their accountability to the constituents they serve.

Also worrisome is Mr. Abbott's history with privatization and schemes to contract out and privatize components of the health care sector.

Perhaps his status as one of eight MLA potentially under threat from recall will inspire him to really listen and pay attention to those who work with children everyday about what changes are needed and how to implement them so that they work. And perhaps the Liberals are finally hearing the cries from the field about the serious funding shortfalls and how desparately school Boards need the proper inputs (funding) if we want to achieve better outputs (student success).

Let's hope so.